Call our free helpline0808 808 3555
Call our free helpline
0808 808 3555
Most children start school at some point in the school year when
they turn five, but from 0-5 different early years options are
available. This page explains how these early years settings
support children with special educational needs (SEN).
If your child has complex needs, these may have been picked up
at birth by health professionals or through screening tests. Your
own observations of your baby as they develop are important. If you
have any worries about your child's development, it's important to
share these with your doctor or health visitor.
Some children with SEN may be diagnosed with a medical
condition, but a child does not need a diagnosis to have SEN.
Your child may be referred to specialists such as educational
psychologists or speech and language therapists. In some areas you
may be able to access a home-visiting education service called Portage.
Early years settings can include childminders, day nurseries,
pre-schools, holiday playschemes and childcare in your own home.
The law refers to these as "early years settings" or "providers."
For more, see our childcare webpages.
Some providers specialise in support for disabled children and
children with special educational needs. If your child has complex
SEN they may be offered a place in a specialist nursery.
Your local authority has a duty to make sure there are enough
early years options for all families in the area who need it and
must help you to find one that is right for your family.
Mainstream settings must take steps to include and support
children with SEN and any medical condition they have.
The setting cannot refuse to take your
child because they are disabled or have SEN. Local authorities
must make sure that all settings that provide free early education
receive additional funding to support those children who need extra
All early years providers must follow the Early Years Foundation
Stage (EYFS) framework. This includes having arrangements in place
to identify and support disabled children and children who have, or
may have, SEN and medical conditions.
Early years settings will use this framework to continually
observe and review how your child is learning, and parents'
insights are an important part of this. The framework includes two
Early years settings that receive government funding must have a
Special Educational Needs Coordinator or SENCO. This is a teacher
who is responsible for making sure all the children with SEN have
the support they need.
Your child should also have a named keyworker - this is the
person who is responsible for your child on a daily basis. This is
the person to speak to first if you have any worries or just want
to talk about how your child is doing.
The approach to support children with SEN includes four
If your child needs more help than the early years setting can
normally provide, they may need an Education
Health and Care needs assessment, which may lead to an Education Health and
During your child's early years you may be thinking ahead about
where they will go to primary school. Here are some answers to the
most common questions we hear.
Is a mainstream or special school best for my
type of school your child goes to will depend on their needs,
your preference and the schools in your area.
Your child may learn well in a mainstream school with extra help
from staff within or outside the school. Find out about
support in a mainstream school.
If your child has complex needs, a special school with specially
trained teachers, therapists and equipment may suit them best.
It's a good idea to visit different schools in your area to get
an idea of what kind of school would be right for your child.
How do I find out about primary schools in my
Your local authority will send you information about how to
apply for a primary school reception place, along with details of
all the local mainstream primary schools, in the year before your
child is due to start school. You can also find this information in
the education section of your local authority website.
I've found a really good special school - how can my
child get a place there?
Nearly all children who go to special schools will have an
Education, Health or Care plan, which describes the extra help
they need and names the school they will go to. You can say in the
plan if you would prefer your child to go to a special school. In
some situations the local authoriy can refuse the school of your
choice. Our education advisers
can help you understand your rights if you're in this
I've accepted a place at the local mainstream school,
but I don't think my child will be ready to start in
Moving to primary school is a big step for all children, and all
schools will have arrangements to help new pupils settle in. Talk
to the school about your child's particular needs and what help the
school can give them at the start of the new school year.
Your child doesn't have to be in education until they reach
compulsory school age, which is at the start of the term after
their 5th birthday. You could ask for your child to go
to school part time until then. Alternatively, you can also ask the
school if your child can delay their start until later in the
If you have any questions about starting school, contact our freephone helpline for
Find out more about applying for a school place
and choosing the right school.
If your child has a particular condition or health problem that
has caused concern from an early age, they may be referred by a
health professional to the local authority for a statutory
If you request a statutory assessment for your child when they
are under two years of age, the local authority must carry it out.
However this assessment does not need to follow the statutory
procedures that are applicable for children over two, so is not a
'statutory assessment'. Such an assessment shall be made in such a
manner as the authority consider appropriate.
Following such an assessment, the local education authority may
make and maintain a statement of the child's special educational
needs in such manner as they consider appropriate.
Statements for children under two are rare. The local authority
should first consider individual support based on your child's
needs. If a statement is issued, it is usually because your child
has complex needs or a particular service is required, for example
We also support Northern Ireland and Scotland. Give our helpline
a call on 0808 808 3555 and we can provide information or signpost
you to alternative sources of advice in those nations where
appropriate. Find out our local office details in the In your area